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Federal government calls on Iran to investigate professor’s death

Kavous Seyed-Emami, 64, recently died under suspicious circumstances in a Tehran prison.

AFP/Getty Images

The Canadian government is calling on Iran to conduct an investigation into the death of an Iranian-Canadian professor, who died in a Tehran prison after his arrest on allegations of spying last month.

Kavous Seyed-Emami, 64, recently died under suspicious circumstances. His family was told last Friday by Iranian authorities that he died by suicide – a claim the family rejects. It is not clear when exactly he died.

Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Canada is "deeply concerned" about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Seyed-Emami's death.

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"We are calling on the Iranian government to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into his [Prof. Seyed-Emami's] death on behalf of the Canadian government. We are asking for answers," Mr. Alghabra said during the daily question period in Parliament Monday.

A senior Canadian government official said Canada asked for the investigation via diplomatic channels.

Canada's influence in Iran is limited following the closing of its embassy in Tehran in 2012, the same year that Canada listed Iran as a state supporter of terrorism. Canadian diplomats in Turkey have assumed the lead role for gathering information related to Prof. Seyed-Emami's death.

The professor's family members are demanding that Iranian authorities allow an independent autopsy to be performed. However, their requests have so far not been heeded, according to a source with ties to the family who said the relatives are under intense pressure to accept the official line and stop requesting a post-mortem examination.

Although Mr. Alghabra said the investigation should address the cause and circumstances surrounding Mr. Seyed-Emami's death, it's not clear if Canada specifically asked for an autopsy.

Amnesty International echoed the calls for an independent autopsy Monday, expressing concern that Prof. Seyed-Emami's body could bear "incriminating signs of torture and other clues to the reasons for his death."

"The authorities' refusal to allow an independent investigation into the extremely suspicious death of Dr. Seyed-Emami smacks of a deliberately orchestrated attempt to cover up any evidence of torture and possible murder. He was detained in Evin prison where detainees are held under constant surveillance and stripped of all personal possessions. It would have been near impossible for him to commit suicide," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and Africa.

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Prof. Seyed-Emami taught sociology at Imam Sadegh University in Tehran and conducted environmental research as managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. His son, musician Ramin Seyed-Emami who performs under the stage name King Raam, wrote on Instagram that his father had died following his arrest on Jan. 24.

The professor's son said he was expected to be buried in a ceremony on Tuesday in the village of Ammameh, which is about 50 kilometres north of Tehran.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New-York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, reiterated calls for the Canadian government to intervene quickly to clearly urge Iran to allow an independent autopsy according to the family's wishes, saying the window was closing given the burial has been scheduled.

"They should back up the family's call for an autopsy and determination of cause of death," he said.

"We're calling on them to really not let another citizen of Canada perish in Iran's prisons without the Canadian government doing anything at the most critical moment," he said, referring to Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died after being tortured in an Iranian prison in 2003.

Prof. Seyed-Emami's family members went to a courthouse in Tehran on Monday, where they "saw the case documents and filed a legal complaint with the help of our lawyers," the professor's son said on Instagram.

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The legal complaint serves notice the family intends to press for a judicial investigation into the circumstances of Prof. Seyed-Emami's death, Mr. Ghaemi said.

"There are many questions here," Mr. Ghaemi said.

Amnesty International said Prof. Seyed-emami's death is the third to be hastily declared a suicide in detention by iranian authorities since widespread protests in the country in December. A fourth death, also confirmed in detention, remains unexplained by the authorities, according to Amnesty.

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